Spring Forward, Fall Back

spring forward
Tax day hasn’t improved with time. (Image credit: Pieter Brueghel the Younger)

Ah, spring. [Cue the music from Beethoven’s Pastorale.] The snow is melting, the birds are chirping and [cue the horrible sound of a symphony grinding to a halt] your taxes are due.

Here in Canada, we are being inundated with cheery television advertisements showing us how easy and fun (fun!) it is to file our taxes. According to these ads, all you need to be able to complete your return is:

1) A shiny new computer, which you will not be allowed to deduct.
2) A super fast Internet connection to the government web site, which, if you live outside metro Toronto, you won’t have until the government uses some of your tax money to provide one for you.
3) A cute 9-year-old daughter who will sit on your lap to demonstrate both family values in Canadian society and also explain the Internet to you.

Okay, really, for most people, filing taxes is fairly easy, mainly because their employers do most of the work. Deductions are taken off your paycheque all year ’round, and then at the end of the year you take the papers the employer hands you to an accountant and they figure out the rest.

For the self-employed though, there is just one word that accurately describes the tax process, and it is: AARGH!

This is because it is one of those immutable laws of the universe that tax law can never be simple. Historically, any country that has ever attempted to enact a simple “tell us what you made and send us X percent” rule was immediately invaded and stomped out of existence by hordes of marauding tax specialists bearing WMD (weapons of mass deduction).

Indeed, speaking of laws of the universe, there are an astonishing number of similarities between tax laws and our theories of how the universe began. (Which means that theoretical astrophysicists are just tax specialists gone horribly wrong). Consider:

Big Bang: What we think our universe started with. Also the noise your brain makes when you find out how much you owe the government.

Inflationary theory: Theorists believe that our universe is expanding, and that the stars and planets are moving farther and farther apart. Your tax bill typically expands, when the government denies that deduction for the wild toga party, and your target retirement age will seem farther and farther away.

Big Crunch: Some theorists speculate that the universe will end in a big crunch, when everything collapses in on itself. Your tax bill will also lead to a big crunch, as you attempt to pay it and your regular bills off.

Assuming you have a rudimentary knowledge of quantum mechanics then, it is possible for the self-employed person to work out his or her own tax return. However, even following the letter of the tax law precisely can get you into trouble.

For example, where I live, self-employed people have until June to file their return. However, your actual taxes are due in April. This means that the minute you work out what you owe, you’re already two months late and now owe even more, thanks to a concept called “interest.” [Cue the big bang noise in the brain.] That is, the government takes a great deal of interest in someone who is late in paying their taxes.

Even worse, the government here has taken to sending out notices to self-employed people that say, “We notice you made X of dollars last year, and that your current tax bill is Y. If you think you’re going to make X again next year, you must also start paying Y again. Now.”

To which I always want to reply that I’m probably not going to make X next year, because I’m too busy trying to pay off Y. Unfortunately, it is one of those great cruelties of life that taxes are not, in fact, tax deductible.

Yes, they say that taxes are the price of civilization, and if that’s the case, things are going to be very, very civilized here this year.

Mainly because we can’t afford any more of those toga parties.

It’s a Living… I Guess

Does anyone know what one of these does? (Photo credit: Li-sung via Wikimedia Commons)
Does anyone know what one of these does? (Photo credit: Li-sung via Wikimedia Commons)

Every once in a while — okay, lately it seems like daily — I discover that I’m going about this whole making a living, putting food on the table business the hard way.

For example, apparently there are people who apparently make very good money as… eyebrow stylists.

When I first heard about this job, I had visions of teeny tiny brushes, itsy bitsy hair curlers, and miniature cans of hair spray. I imagined hot, bright lights and an oversized magnifying glass just above the prone customer; a gentle aesthetician with slender hands sweating the details. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Marple. A little off the ends today? A bit of curl for body?”

But no, apparently eyebrow stylists just remove bits of your eyebrow. Forcibly, but apparently in a stylish manner. So, I’m thinkin': I have duct tape. I can do a nice flourish and even add a sophisticated French, “voila!” as I yank. I could do this.

Then there’s being a golf ball marshal. If you’re anything like me (that is, conditioned by years of westerns on TV), you’ll imagine a gunslinger in a cowboy hat, walking casually around the back of the saloon to catch a golf ball trying to escape certain incarceration by climbing out a window. (Okay, maybe it’s not conditioning but rather too much wine and an overactive imagination.)

What it really involves is scanning the fairways for lost golf balls. While not as romantic or dashing as my version, I could do this as well. Really, who couldn’t spend their days wandering across green spaces, basking in the sunshine?

The only downside for me is that I suck at finding things. For proof, just ask the Easter Bunny, who when hiding chocolate eggs for me in year two, ended up stepping on the gooey, half-melted gifts that I hadn’t found the first time around. However, I could grab a pair of those Visiball ‘find your golf balls faster!’ glasses than no less than 12 mail order companies have told me would make a great stocking stuffer.

Another way to make a living is to be a ‘wrinkle chaser.’ This does not, as you might think, mean you are a young man or woman in pursuit of a rich, elderly spouse. It means you get rid of wrinkles during the shoe manufacturing process so that we don’t all end up with creased toes. While this job would be easy, it’s just not for me. First, it involves finding things (see above), and second, I have a faith-based thing against ironing: I avoid it religiously.

I could earn better money as a — I kid you not — chicken sexer. Because this is a family-oriented column, I will not put to words what I’m sure you all envisioned just now. What it really involves is sorting out boy chicks from girl chicks. I’m sure most chicken sexers (does one put this on a business card, one wonders?) do this the hard way, i.e., by picking up chicks one by one and doing a rather personal inspection. I’d just set up two television sets at the end of the conveyer belt in the poultry factory: one showing action films, and one showing, well, chick flicks. They’d self-sort.

I could also be a pretend patient. Many medical schools hire people to pretend they have various ailments so that medical students can practice their diagnoses and bedside manner. As long as this didn’t involve practicing, say, surgery, or needle administration, this would be an easy job. Disrobing wouldn’t be an issue for me these days either; as anyone who has ever given birth to a child can tell you, modesty is no longer part of your vocabulary.

But perhaps the best job of all would be one in the technology manufacturing industry. I could be a ‘clean room’ janitor. This is one of those rooms where you need to prevent dust, dirt and other impurities from interfering with the manufacturing of delicate electronic components. I figure since everyone who comes in has to wear one of those white full-body suits anyway, the job basically does itself.

Indeed, now that I think about it, I may insist that everyone in my house wears one of those suits from now on.


Room For Improvement

Lumberjacking: Still not an easy job. (Photo credit: Traumrune via Wikimedia Commons)
Lumberjacking: Still not an easy job. (Photo credit: Traumrune via Wikimedia Commons)

This week, I found an old news story about Stjepan Lizacic, who was 56 at the time, who was suing his local health authority because he says he’s become a laughing stock.

Lizacic, a lumberjack, (or since he’s Croatian, a lumberStjack) claimed he started ‘enjoying housework and knitting’ after he was given a female kidney in a transplant operation.

I don’t know about you, but I think our friend Lizacic was fibbing. Why? Because he went on to say that he now finds housework both relaxing and fulfilling. Quick, all you women out there who find housework fulfilling, please clap your hands.

[crickets chirping]

So why did he make this claim and sue? I can think of two reasons:

1) He’s was always interested in knitting and housework, but really didn’t want to say so to his axe-wielding, hard-drinking, male friends.
2) He’s was fifty-six-year-old who makes his living cutting down trees. I’d be looking at an early retirement plan too.

In any case, if all it took was a simple kidney transplant operation to get men to do their share of the housework, you’d have heard about it by now… from the long line-up of female kidney donors standing outside your local hospital.

No, swapping organs with someone would not give you a personality makeover. What does strike me as interesting about this story though, is how routine organ transplants have become. It makes me wonder what we might be able to do to change or improve our bodies in the future. There’s a lot we could borrow from the animal kingdom.

For example, I wonder how long it will take us to learn how to give gills to humans, so that we could breathe underwater. This would be cool — I might actually be able to pick up that coin my swim teacher was forever chucking into the deep end of the pool. To say nothing of what it would do for the Summer Olympics.

Wings would be darned handy, although I’m sure that it would take some getting used to. Not the flying, I mean, but what to do with the wings when you’re not in flight. The fashion industry would have to be completely rejigged. And if you slept beside someone who tossed and turned a lot, you’d risk getting thwacked by both wings and elbows.

Perhaps an exoskeleton would be the next best upgrade. We humans are awfully soft and squishy in our natural states, as anyone who has ever fallen down a flight of stairs can attest. And just think of the body checks you could throw in hockey, or the tackles you could take in football, if you had the same body armour as a … common cockroach.

Personally I think the single greatest improvement we could make would be in the area of childbirth. The kangaroos have it right: none of this morning sickness stuff, no stretch marks, and forget the hours of agonizing labour and delivery. A joey shows up in the pouch when it’s just a few inches long and does all it’s growing *outside* of mother’s body. Okay, so maybe the pouch does get a bit saggy by the time the mini-roo is able to climb out, but it’d be a small price to pay to avoid the stitches.

And I wonder if we’ll ever be advanced enough to be able to adopt animal attitudes? I’m not sure which I’d have installed: cat disdain, so that nothing ever bothered me, or dog enthusiasm, so that I was always in a good mood?

Actually either one would be good, as long as I didn’t also find myself compelled to chase mice, fetch balls, or worst of all, have a sudden passion for housework and knitting.